[Thanks to greenline, another first-timer, for today's game preview. Still need one for the Bucks tomorrow if you're interested. -yfbb]
Tonight marks the first time this season the Bulls face the "Wiz" with tipoff at 7 p.m. at the United Center. The two main things to watch for are the expected return of Noah from a shoulder sprain and how the Bulls bounce back from their lackluster loss to the Hawks on Saturday. Some might worry Noah will mess up the Bulls' rotations after their recent run, but I think that despite some rust he'll prevent Gortat and Nene from outmuscling Gasol (Nene and Humphries are listed as day-to-day after sitting out the Wizards' win Saturday over the Magic. Gortat may be out too.).
I can't write about the Bulls-Wizards game without mentioning their ugly 2014 playoff series, which the good guys lost 4-1 despite being the higher seed. That was the year Noah finished fourth in MVP voting, won Defensive Player of the Year, and then the Bulls made the Wizards look better than they were during the playoffs. In Game 3 Dunleavy set a franchise record for threes in a playoff game (8 of 10 from behind the arc), but it was bittersweet because you knew that if that's what it took for the Rose-less Bulls to eke out a win (along with Butler literally going head to head with Nene), the season was over.
Back in the present, the Wizards have been struggling after almost breaking through to the Conference Finals last year (I think they might have done it if Wall had not broken his hand). A little oppo research suggests injuries to Beal, Nene and Humphries are possible culprits for this year's downturn, as well as trying to implement a faster-paced offense on a team with slow bigs ("Hoiball"?). My theory is the Wiz are suffering from the departure of Playoff Pierce, although they still have Playoff Wittman.
I am obviously predicting Da Bulls win this one. The two teams split their four games last season, but they've been heading in different directions this season. While the Wiz are still somewhat dangerous, Jimmy has taken major strides in the past two years. Wall will probably get the better of Derrick in the battle between former No. 1 picks (although I'd love to be proved wrong and for Rose to intercept a Jared Dudley inbounds pass), but his drive and kick won't work too well without Beal's sweet shooting. The Wizards rank 24th in opponents' points per game this season, so hopefully there will be some free Big Macs for those in attendance.
[there was somewhat of a mixup with the signup for this one so here's an another preview for you to check out -yfbb]